Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra
V: Let’s start episode 187 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. This question was sent by Dan. He writes:
Hi Vidas and Ausra. What an excellent topic. I’m totally blind here, and have learned my music by ear for years. I did a bit of stuff with Braille music, (That could be another option,) if your listener already reads literary Braille, he could take up music Braille. For me however, I found it to be tedious and slow. Speaking of recorded tutorials on pieces, I thought you had done one going over the Prelude and fugue in c-minor of Bach, BWV 549), at one time. I’d purchased it off your site at the time you’d posted it, but I’d only gotten the first bit of the prelude, just up to slightly after the pedal solo, there wasn’t anything further. I really liked the way you’d went over it too.
V: So another question about practice suggestions for blind people, right?
V: I know I don’t have any experience with literary or music Braille versions so I don’t have much to add do you?
A: Me neither.
V: But what I have heard from other people is that music Braille is not very comfortable to use. They have special printers I think, very expensive ones so they could print out music and they can feel with their hands and touch the music sheet and that way they can read the music.
A: Yes, that is true.
V: But probably the easiest way is the one that Dan describes when somebody posts a piece of music recorded in advance separate parts only. Soprano, alto, tenor, bass and played very very slowly and that way a person who cannot see can play along.
A: That’s true but I think this method only works if you have a good ear you know, because if you don’t have a good ear then it’s hard for you then it would be easier to learn from the Braille notation.
V: Um-hmm. Right. Do you think they have a Braille language for every language of the world or just English and other languages are separate?
A: I hope that it’s universal.
V: Like sign language you know for people that cannot hear.
A: Yes, silent language is different, sign language is different for each nation so this is I think you know ridiculous. Because that way we cannot communicate let’s say Lithuanian and American people and that’s just too bad. We could have some sort of you know universal sign language like Esperanto for example.
V: Um-hmm. I hope people are creating something like that in time. So, I think people who cannot see should not be too discouraged to play the organ, don’t you think?
A: Well, yes I understand that you know it’s hard when you have such slow progress. And the way that the learning of the piece is going so slowly but I think you know I think it should give them some enjoyment and it’s very important.
V: Deep sense of enjoyment I would add because it’s through their enormous efforts that they could memorize the piece.
A: Yes and I think as a final result we really have to know the piece very well. I don’t think that we know our pieces that we are performing so well.
V: We, you mean you and I?
A: Yes. And I mean in general everybody who sees, who can see.
V: Um-hmm. You know in a sense they could think of themselves as visually challenged, right? They cannot see as well as some other person can. But then you and I are challenged in another way right? Maybe technically, maybe some other things we cannot do well that that particular person, the blind person can do better.
A: I think it should be like this if you know if you lose one, one sense of yourself you need to develop some some some other you know skills and maybe you have better hearing or you know.
V: And I heard it’s not always the case. It’s one of those myths you know that if you lose your vision you can feel with your touch better or smell or hear. Yes, there are some like that but not always I’ve read.
A: But I always admire you know people who face those challenges and overcome them.
V: Exactly. There are blind painters earlier we looked up beautiful paintings. I cannot even begin to imagine how they you know differentiate those beautiful colors and they probably see the colors or color combinations in their mind right?
A: Yes, that’s a sort of mystery for me.
A: How do they do it.
V: Or like Beethoven and other people who could not hear from outside they had this inner sense of listening and creating.
A: So, maybe you know for people with vision trouble, you know for blind people maybe they have sort of you know inner vision too and that’s how they can paint.
V: Yeah, they imagine the world around them and it probable depends whether they were blind from birth or whether they developed it later on.
A: Yes, I think it makes a big difference because as a kid you can see and differentiate different colors and probably you might be able you know to paint after losing your vision. It was the same with Beethoven losing his hearing. Like for example for myself I can hear music sounding inside my head almost all the time.
V: Mmm. Wouldn’t it be interesting for us to talk to that person who is blind organist and discuss that that in person and in real life those issues that he or she could transfer their experience.
A: Yes I think this would be the right way to do it.
V: So guys, if any of our students and listeners and readers are visually challenged right, in any way or entirely blind and want to share your experience with the world how you learn music, how you adapt right, how you orient yourself in daily life, that would be absolutely amazing topic for discussion right? So send us an email. We would be glad to arrange a conversation with you online right, and we could post it as a podcast too.
A: Yes it would be very interesting and you know exciting experience for us too.
V: I think we need to understand each other better and one of the first steps is to know each other better and share those experiences. Just like people from around the world are sometimes sending us emails about how they live, right, and about what challenges they have in South America, Australia, Africa, Asia, right, and North America and Europe. Various countries have their own ways of life and were all different but at the end we are all united with a common passion for organ.
A: That’s true.
V: At least for organ, there are many others right? All right. Thank you guys, this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 179, of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. This question was sent by John. He writes:
Hello Vidas and Ausra,
About your last post – someone who is legally blind would, as Tony stated, not be able to read music notation, and may have used the assistance of one of his friends or loved ones to write the message to you, unless he used some magnifying device in front of his monitor or used large font to send the message. You can get large magnifying screens from various Blind Institutes, but it wouldn’t make reading music much easier, let alone playing at the same time. So a different approach may be needed, possibly a bit like blind organists, like Louis Vierne and others, who would also have been legally blind or fully blind, and who may have mastered the art by sheer perseverance, and help from others, I presume.
V: So, Ausra, remember we talked about helping Tony, when he wrote ‘legally blind’, but we didn’t really understand what he meant.
A: Well, he put it in the quotation marks.
V: Uh, huh, so…
A: So he never sort of, if you know, if you put something in the quotation mark it means just the opposite. That’s how our language works.
V: Right, so we understood that he could read music, he could see music but he couldn’t read the music, you see.
V: That’s how I understood it.
A: So if, you know, it would be like legally blind without quotations it would mean you are blind, or almost blind. But if it’s in the quotation mark, it means just the opposite. That, you sort of, you know, can see but you are bad at reading music.
V: Exactly. So now that we know what Tony meant, right, and thanks to John who, who corrected us. Now we can um, discuss a little bit situation for the blind people, right? What they could do, how to play the organ. Of course, one way would be to improvise. That’s definitely the case for a lot of blind organists in France, I believe.
V: Or the Netherlands too. They have a great tradition of improvisation. Mmm, and then another option would be to, to get a very large, mmm, font of your sheet music and enlarge them. If you can see something at least. Remember like our professor Leopoldas Digrys before the eye surgery he used to see very little and he had enlarged a lot of his scores. I don’t think that would for Tony because he is legally blind so he cannot see anything.
A: Yes, and he actually puts that music rack adjusted in front of his eyes.
V: Mmm, mmm.
A: He would sort of well, the special device that would make the music stand closer to his eyes.
V: And it also depends, if you are blind from birth, or you, I don’t know, had an accident or illness, and gradually become lost sight.
A: This, you know, would mean you know, a difference way how to approach music because one ways is you know if you learn how to play being blind, and another if you know learn in your early age how to read music.
V: Mmm, hmm.
A: And only then you lost your sight.
V: But definitely a German organist Helmut Walcha for example would be a great example for this, right? He would ask his students to play an excerpt of maybe two measures of a polyphonic composition but not all voices together but just one voice, single voice. And then he would repeat it several times and then he would ask another voice, right Ausra?
A: Yes, and this an idea that you know, you learn single voice and then you put voice together after earning each voice separately.
V: But then you have to have help all the time.
V: Which could be possible now a-days. You know how?
A: You could ask if somebody would record, you know, like a piece.
V: In separate voices?
A: In separate voices.
A: And then you could learn from recording.
V: Even our students for example, that would be a, our readers who are listening to us from all over the world, if they are practicing in single voice combinations, slow enough. They could record themselves and let’s say, and put the recording online. I bet some blind organist would even want to pay for that, right?
V: As a practice aide.
A: That’s true.
V: Umm, exactly. What else? MIDI system could help too. Remember you could put music in the MIDI notation and then play it in various speeds, play back and the organist could play from, from, from listening to the recording.
A: That’s true.
V: What would you do if you suddenly lost your sight? Would you play from the sheet music or would improvise or something else?
A: I don’t know, I don’t thought about it.
V: I know what I would do, I would probably improvise. And since I’m improvising every day it would just mean I would just improvise more, you know.
A: Well the I would probably have to improvise too.
V: Mmm, hmm. I had one experience of being blind for one day. Did you have this experience? No. I haven’t told you.
A: For an entire day?
V: A little be less. It was an experiment. I was in the summer camp with young people and in the middle of the woods basically, this camp was for a couple of weeks, I believe, I remember in Inkunai. And one summer they had a few blind kids and everyone else in the camp had an assignment to put, to be blindfolded, right? To put like a scarf on your eyes, and to walk around without being able to see. So, so in order to feel a little what blind people feel all the time. So we, we walked around for maybe 30 minutes or so, just a little bit, you know. It was really, really difficult not to bump into trees and things like that.
A: Well I had sort of, you know, experience, but not for such a long time, and you know, because of the health condition, not because of some experiment. Because I have terrible headaches, called migraine, and sometimes before that I sort of get, uh, very, very weird experience, and some of them are related to my eyes. And I had once, I almost lost my vision, you know, in the middle of the street and I, you know, it was very hard for me to find my way home.
V: Was it a scary experience.
A: Yes, it was a scary experience.
V: Because you didn’t know how long it would last.
A: Yes, and this was the first time it happened so it scared me a lot. But somehow I reached home and you know, maybe after ten minutes being at home, I had this sudden headache and then I just understood that it’s related to, to things losing vision and headaches. And then I had this actually this year at school. During playing dictation for my senior students. And you know, it’s a big part of dictation so it sort of
A: Quite, difficult yes, to play, and suddenly I lost my vision too.
V: Did you have a headache at that time too?
A: Later on, yes. It comes later on. It doesn’t come at the same time.
V: So you can’t predict what will happen next.
A: So then I just finished the class, you know, right on time. I didn’t want to scare my students so I didn’t tell anybody anything. And then I somehow managed to go to my colleague next door and, and actually she took me to the teachers green room, where we have coffee machines, so I bought a coffee, you know a strong coffee, and it helped a little bit, yes, for my vision, and then I had that horrible headache. But vision came back.
V: Mmm, mmm. Yeah. It’s scary!
A: I don’t know what I would do if this would happen during my recital.
V: And driving.
A: Or driving.
V: Mmm, mmm.
A: Well if it would happen during driving, you would just you know,
V: Is it sudden or gradual loss of sight?
A: Well, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s sudden but it’s not like you know, you can not see anything. I mean you see dark for example, yeah. I sort of, you see all kinds of rainbow colors.
V: Mmm, mmm.
A: And they keep flashing very fast, in front of your eyes.
A: So you cannot see anything because of all these sparks, and spots and colors. It’s hard to describe. I think you have to experience it in order to understand how it works.
V: I bet some people write some comments for us afterwards because they might have something like that.
A: Because I had migraines all my life since I was probably ten or eleven years old but I never had this kind of stuff before.
V: Mmm, mmm. Well good news is that life always finds a way, right? And look what Beethoven did,,,
V: at the end of his life. Right? He lost his ability to hear, but he wrote music anyway.
A: Well I think that losing you know, hearing would be easier problem for me compared to you know, losing the vision.
V: Okay. I’m typing now into Google, blind painters. Let’s see. And there are ten amazing blind painters, right away, the second hit. Or visually impaired artists, you know. And look! They’re really beautiful! And somehow you can see the colors in your mind, you know. Or combinations of the colors.
A: It’s the same as you know, with, with Beethoven. Except, you know, he lost not his vision but his hearing, he could still music inside of him.
V: Mmm, mmm. So please don’t be too discouraged. I know it’s not a regular situation. It’s not like, like you will walk the street with, with optimism and you know, um, all the time. Because yes, it’s frustrating and the situation is very difficult to cope but if you have a dream which is big enough, you can always find a way.
V: Sometimes people climb mountains without their legs, right?
V: Sometimes people in wheelchairs who can only move their tongue I believe, right, they are paralyzed from neck down. They can write books and inspire other people because they have really sharp mind. Look what scientist Stephen Hawking does all the time. Right? Look him up.
A: Sure. And you know that Bach got blind too at the end of his life. Now you know scientists believe that it was because of diabetes.
A: So, nobody is sure for, you know, one’s health. So it just love yourself you know, and take it easy.
V: You know, they say that a person has to have some level of security, physical and mental security in order to be creative, in order to pursue their dreams, right? To have a secure house our home, to have food, right? Shelter, enough money to survive, right? And then they can be creative. And then they can play. And then they can express themselves. And then they can follow their passions. Which is true in most of the cases but not all, right Ausra? Because sometimes people can overcome those burdens and challenges, despite them become successful in life and become inspirations for others while being in a wheelchair, while being blind, while being challenged in one way or another. Because what does it mean, challenged? It means that you cannot do something better than someone else, right, something. If you are visually challenged you cannot see as well as someone else can see, right? But in a sense that’s the same situation with everyone of us, right? I cannot do everything as well as you can do, right? Remember Quentin Falkner, our professor? He called himself with humor, technically challenged, right? Although it’s just probably his own expression but, yes, it’s true. There are people who can play organ better than us, right? We could think like that too.
A: Yes, but not everybody is in the same position, so,
V: But I think it gives hope, this sort of, um, mentality that you don’t compare yourself to others, right? And try to make best of the situation.
A: That true.
V: Thank you guys. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And remember, when you practice…
A: Miracles happen!
(Not only) for blind organists
How do blind organists play organ music? They either use Braille notation or play by ear. Also they improvise.
A blind organist, Ulysses likes to play Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, from cantata BWV 147 by J.S. Bach. He uses either Braille or his perfect pitch to pick up music from online videos. In order to help him master this beautiful piece, today I prepared a version of it in 7 combinations (right hand, left hand, pedals, right hand and left hand, right hand and pedals, left hand and pedals, and all three parts together) for him to listen to and practice.
Some people who are not blind also like watching my videos and practicing together with the recording in half speed. If you like practicing BWV 147/10 while listening to the sound file, you can join Ulysses in listening to this MIDI file of the score performed in a very slow practice tempo. Let me know if this helps.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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